It's breakfast, lunch or dinner. You take a bite of a ham, egg and cheese sandwich, eat a fork-full of pasta or hold a slice of pizza with both hands. While in these situations we often focus more on the deliciousness we are about to enjoy, the people we are sitting with or maybe even the pile of papers we're working on between bites, we often forget what it takes for that food to arrive on our plate.
Eating may be essential for our bodies, but the act of cooking is something very different ? an art form, a way of bringing people together, and a passion for many. Here are some stories of people in our area who have made their passion a business, to provide great dishes for the community. And be it that they are aided by a knife, serving spoon or spatula, it's with their hands that they make it possible.
PHOTO BY NICK DUTRO
A cook prepares salad at Mohawk Golf and Country Club.
It's difficult to keep Paulette Colatruglio out of the kitchen. On Sundays, the busiest day of the week for the 5-year-old business, Paulette said she prefers to be on the grill making omelets, one of her specialties.
"I love making those," Paulette said. "I'm on the grill probably every day. It's probably 45-50 hours on the grill, plus."
Her husband, Jeff, said he doesn't quite have the same feelings.
"I'm not the grill person short order cooks, it really is, it's an art," he said.
Jeff and Paulette are the owners/operators of Paulette's, which has locations in Tiffin and Fostoria. The Colatruglios describe the eateries as home-style cooking, comfort food, with a variety of daily specials not typical for most restaurants.
"You go around town and you don't see a lot of cabbage rolls, stuffed green peppers, knockers and 'kraut. She does a lot of things ? I'm not going to say there is anything special about it ? but you just don't see a lot of it around town. A lot of our competition just doesn't have that. And I think that sets (us) apart," Jeff said.
"They even tell us, 'Oh, I didn't feel like making that tonight, so I just came here,'" Paulette said.
While the regular menu has many popular items - especially breakfast foods - they said the specials bring in many people, be it baked chicken dinners on Sundays, or the weekly Mexican and Italian buffets in Fostoria.
Jeff said making the specials is one of his favorite aspects of the job, especially because it allows he and Paulette an opportunity to be in the kitchen.
"It's not that we don't trust anybody, but we've done it so long, we know how we want it. It's kind of hard to teach somebody a pinch of this, a pinch of that, we don't really have set recipes, we just kind of know what we do," he said.
The Colatruglios had a similar mentality while creating the menu during their start in November 2007. Jeff and Paulette said they managed a pizza shop in the 1980s, and had experience catering large dinners, but it was Paulette's kitchen experience that helped them prepare for owning a restaurant and building a menu that has kept customers coming in the door.
Their Tiffin location, 238 S. Sandusky St., also has been a benefit, using a building that housed other "mom and pop" restaurants in the past.
"We don't have a lot of parking, but for some reason we fill this up every breakfast, every lunch," Jeff said.
In March, Jeff and Paulette made the move to their second location, 224 N. Main St., Fostoria. Although Fostoria was not necessarily in their plan for a second location - Jeff said he had been looking closer to Lake Erie - the building came open and he said the deal was a win-win.
"The people over there have been really supportive. They're really good people and we've enjoyed being over there," Jeff said.
One thing that has benefited them with the move was having a staff in place in Tiffin that they could trust to handle operations while they were setting up the new store.
"We do have good staff," Jeff said. "We're still putting things together a little bit in Fostoria. But here in (Tiffin), we're very comfortable with the people we have here, we do have good people here. Not to say we don't in Fostoria, it's new and we're still trying to get things situated."
"It's a combination of being over there so much more than here, that we have to rely on them. So we really appreciate it," Paulette said.
Jeff joked when talking about one of the employees ? their daughter, Nichole, who has helped them with the restaurant since they started.
"It has been nice. It's one of those things where she has been very reliable. If we ever had to do something or go out of town, it's been very nice having her in, even the whole time she was at college. It is nice, we get to see her every day and she seems to enjoy it." Jeff said.
Their oldest daughter, Janelle, who is a nurse in the Cleveland area, also has worked at the restaurant in the past.
Jeff and Paulette said expanding to Fostoria has been a rewarding challenge so far. And with the larger space, it also has opened up the possibilities of large parties, and the buffets which have proved popular.
The restaurant, like their Tiffin location, also has been getting a number of regular customers. While they are used to having regulars in Tiffin - some of whom will come in multiple times a day - they said it's a great thing to have, and gives them hope that they can last for a long a time.
"I love people like that. I love all our customers, but the loyal customers are great, and there are a lot of them," Jeff said.
and Country Club
Scot Turner grew up across the lake from Mohawk Golf and Country Club. After graduating from Tiffin Columbian, he moved to the Columbus area and started working in restaurants - namely for Cameron Mitchell - starting with busing tables, then becoming a server, a bartender and eventually management. But, he said, it was like a dream come true when Mohawk was seeking a new clubhouse manager.
Since March, Turner has been busy taking the knowledge he learned in the big city to improve on what has made Mohawk a success.
"It's kind of a progression," he said. "All of the things I'm in charge of kind of feed off of each other, whether it's parties at the pool, the menu we serve for our regular member luncheons and dinners, and we do private parties. So because I'm in charge of all of those aspects, I get a little bit of the food, and the beverage and the coordination. It's a benefit because I'm very hands on with everything, and it gives me a good grasp of everything."
Turner's experience has given him a unique viewpoint as he entered Mohawk, taking the lessons learned in a large, competitive market and instilling them locally.
"Focusing on taking great care of our associates - our servers and bartenders and lifeguards - so they'll take, in turn, great care of our guests. That's one of the things I learned from Cameron Mitchell that is kind of unique. That's why they're called associates, not employees."
While the entire operation is very important, Turner has been giving special attention to improving the food quality, making sure they have a great product for members.
"Especially being a private club, we try to take great care of our membership. We accommodate what our members want," he said.
Part of that focus has been to handle large parties and events in a different way, by looking to caterers or guest chefs to prepare the meal. Turner said that while he has a great crew at Mohawk to prepare meals for regular lunch and dinner guests, he has made the decision to sometimes look outside the staff in those situations.
"I have to balance both of those, consider what events we can handle with the kitchen and which events are better served with a caterer."
When it comes to the ingredients, Turner said Mohawk is sure to use fresh produce from local growers and quality ingredients, typically working with local companies including Smith Frosted Foods and TPC Food Service.
"There's maybe a chance to save a couple cents if we went national, or with a larger company, but the quality we get from them is fantastic, and the fact that they're local makes it worth it for us to, every once in a while, on certain items spend a little more."
With the summer and nice weather, golf becomes a huge draw for members. And to cater to that, the club has made use of the outdoor dining spaces and patio, as well as some menu changes to accommodate for the change in seasons.
"We're fortunate here to have a great view of the golf course, so what we've done is the menu we currently have is a little more outdoor friendly, we don't have a lot of heavy lasagna or pasta dishes, the pastas we do have include a zucchini, squash or more summery feel to them. So we've tried to create a menu that fits with outdoor dining. With the view that we have, and the space that we have out there, it has a real natural ambiance comes with it, so that's where we're trying to focus a lot of our efforts."
Because the focus is on the membership, Turner said Mohawk is offered some opportunities to make special orders for guests, be it in a new food item they had not previously tried or a specialty beer.
The restaurant also has started offering an event this summer called the "Nine and Dine," in which a menu is built specifically for the evening with the help of a member.
"That's a real example of us giving back to our members, and work with my assistance to create a menu for that evening," he said.
Turner said the biweekly meal often is accompanied with other entertainment, like a musical guest or game. He said attendance has been up, and members have reacted positively to it.
In a mirror of his career, Turner hopes to continue to build and improve on what he already has achieved in his short time at the club. From the menu to other interesting events, always striving for progress.
Fathead's Family Restaurant
As the sign that welcomes visitors to Republic announces, the village is small, but big in heart. One could argue that a sizable portion of the community's heart can be attributed to Fathead's Family Restaurant.
There are many reasons why the restaurant has become a hit for people in Republic and the surrounding area ? from the pizza, burgers and other menu items, the pictures of classic TV shows lining the walls and the Laurel and Hardy cardboard standees, or just the atmosphere of coming to a place to be with people after a sports event or family night out.
Owner/operator Patty Mattson opened the restaurant more than 17 years ago, taking over the space that used to house a small grocery store and carry-out pizza shop.
"I like almost everything about 99 percent of the time. One percent is a challenge, but I do enjoy it most of the time," Mattson said. "I like the people and we're always busy. There's never a dull moment."
Because Republic is such a small community, Mattson said more than 75 percent of the business comes from out-of-town travelers.
"I wish many years ago when I started this I did a (guestbook), but I never did. Now it's like I've missed 17 years, but it would have been interesting to see," she said.
Mattson said that like many businesses, hers had some difficulty as the recession hit, but it has bounced back, and the restaurant is just as busy as it has ever been on the weekends, especially in the fall. While Seneca East High School has moved locations, there still are many people who head to the restaurant for burgers and pizza on Friday and Saturday nights after the football games, and the summers often bring in people returning to the area from college or to visit family.
"Always, 'Oh we got to get our Fathead fix,'" she said, referring to the returning customers.
While pizza is a draw for many, Mattson said the most popular items include the signature Fathead burger, steaks and lasagna, which Mattson still makes herself.
"But I only do it every other weekend, or I wouldn't enjoy it so much," she joked.
Most of the menu items are made from scratch, and she said quality ingredients are key. She said the dough is made fresh every day, they cut their own steaks, press their own Angus beef burgers, make the salad dressing and buy their perch from fishermen in Port Clinton.
"We try to make everything from scratch," she said. "I think that's what helps things, we keep things quality, fresh."
In addition, she said having one menu, which combines the pizza offerings and that of the other options, has helped make them a success, and gives people a chance to find a new dish that they haven't tried before - that could potentially become a new favorite.
Mattson said that while she does a lot around the restaurant, she would be lost without her staff, including her husband, Dennis Mattson, who she attributed as "the reason I'm in this business." She said he often helps by providing maintenance and sometimes tends bar.
While being the boss of a small operation comes with many challenges, Mattson said it's a rewarding experience and one that gives her a lot of variety, from high-end finance to getting her hands in what she's doing.
"Sometimes I just like being in the kitchen, and sometimes I just want to do the dishes," she said.